CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Senate Finance Committee members on Monday unanimously approved a bill supported by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to reduce prison overcrowding by mandating post-release supervision of inmates and expanding community corrections options.
The legislation (SB371), based on a yearlong study of state prison overcrowding by the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, now goes to the Senate floor.
On Monday, committee members adopted minor changes to the legislation and advanced it without discussion on a unanimous voice vote.
Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said he believes the bill will pass the Legislature, even though a similar Senate bill died in the House last session.
"This is the governor's bill, and there's been a whole lot of work done on it, not only by members of his staff and the Legislature, but by the work group out of Texas," he said, referring to the Justice Center.
"I think this is a good measure," Prezioso said. "Obviously, we can't afford to build another prison for $250 million."
Earlier this month, state Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein told Senate Judiciary Committee members that overcrowding is at the crisis stage, with state prisons at capacity, and with more than 1,800 inmates housed in critically overcrowded Regional Jails around the state.
A key focus of the governor's legislation is to reduce recidivism of released inmates by requiring mandatory supervision for six months to one year.
It also attempts to reduce probation and parole revocations by allowing judges to sentence individuals to 60- to 180-days of "shock" incarceration in Regional Jails or community corrections programs for technical rules violations and minor infractions, in lieu of requiring them to complete their prison sentences.
The bill adds several responsibilities for the state Supreme Court, including expanding pre-trial risk assessments and overseeing a new Community Supervision Committee.
In its fiscal note, the court indicated it can perform those duties at no additional cost.
Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he wants assurances the court won't come back in a year requiring funding for new personnel -- particularly since the state constitution requires that the Legislature fully fund all budget requests from the court.
"Do they anticipate there will be no additional increases in the future?" Unger asked. "We can't say no to them. Whatever they ask for, we have to give them."
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.